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Tzipi Livni, another moral casualty of the Gaza war

This week she lost the leadership of Kadima, but Livni lost her voice when she supported Operation Cast Lead – and she wasn’t alone.

In the euphoria immediately after Obama’s election night in 2008, and with Israel’s own election four months away, I wrote that “if there’s any Israeli candidate who can catch the fire he lit, it’s Livni.” While granting that she wasn’t a true “peacenik,” meaning she didn’t seem too bothered by the immorality of the occupation, I called her “a woman of integrity, a woman of justice…[and one] who appears sincerely eager to make peace with the Arabs.”

My opinion was based on Livni’s having been the only member of Olmert’s cabinet who argued for a quick end to the 2006 war in Lebanon, who seemed to have very good relations with Mahmoud Abbas during the peace talks, who consistently reiterated the need to end the occupation, and who made an absolutely great impression as an honest, idealistic, intelligent, patriotic, charismatic leader, one who had examined the Greater Israel ideology she’d been been brought up on, and had changed. I was impressed. She was the new hope of the peace camp, the post-Labor successor to Rabin, Peres and Barak. Maybe she would succeed where they hadn’t.

Two months later, I gave up on this hope for good. Israel launched Operation Cast Lead, killing at least 230 people from the air on the first day then leaving more and more corpses and ruin that horrified nearly the whole world. Foreign Minister Livni was the war’s ambassador, arguing its righteousness to her good friend Condi Rice and other Western leaders. A couple of days after the war started, when the French proposed a “humanitarian cease-fire,” Livni got on a plane to Paris where she stated, “There is no humanitarian crisis in the Strip, and therefore there is no need for a humanitarian truce.”

That was it for her career as an alternative to the Likud. If you can support such an onslaught, such an exercise in overkill when Israel was still blockading Gaza and subjugating the West Bank, when for years it had been raining incomparably worse hell on Gaza than Gaza had on Sderot, and when Hamas had publicly offered to stop firing rockets in return for an end to the blockade and a cease-fire in the West Bank – if you can support such an immoral war, you can no longer stand for peace or morality.

And that’s what happened to Livni – she became a hollow shell afterward, an image of liberalism, of change, of a new future, but with nothing inside. She’s had no substantive criticism of Netanyahu, not on settlements, certainly not on security. She supported the deadly raid on the Mavi Marmara, she supported every hush-hush overseas assassination, she supported the anti-Palestine campaign in the UN, she supported every bomb and bullet fired at Gaza or the West Bank, and the few murmurs she once made against an attack on Iran grew fainter and fainter until they ended completely.

The loss of a rallying voice for peace and change was one of the many effects of Operation Cast Lead. It’s an important reason why Netanyahu and the right have had such an easy time of it, why Israel is so dead politically. But it wasn’t just Livni who lost her voice in the Gazan destruction at the turn of 2009; the mainstream of the Israeli peace camp and at least a couple of great Israeli writers, all well to the left of Livni, pretty much lost their voices too, and collectively their silence, or near silence, has been louder and more soul-killing than hers.

The cave-in of the left began the day before the Air Force attacked, when Amos Oz wrote a front-page column in Friday’s Yedioth Aharonoth saying, “The State of israel must defend its citizens… The suffering of the residents living near Gaza cannot continue.” Further down in the column he made sure to add, “The best course for Israel is to reach a complete cease-fire in return for an easing of the siege on Gaza.”

This was the same position taken by Meretz – support at the start of the war, then after a few days, a call for a cease-fire. This was also author/Yediot columnist Meir Shalev’s position. The problem was that it had no integrity – Olmert, the generals, the pundits, everyone had been talking for a long time about the inevitability of ha’mivtza ha’gadol – the “big operation” in Gaza, the sustained ground and air assault that would finally put a stop to Hamas’ rocketing. What the left was calling for – a few days only of bombing and infantry raids – was what Israel had been doing for years, and the rockets had kept coming. This time it would be the big operation – and Oz, Shalev and Meretz knew it, they heard it from Olmert and the generals like everyone else, so when they supported the war but called for a quick ending, they were being disingenuous – pretending not to know what they in fact knew very well, for the sake of appearances.

What was Peace Now’s position on Operation Cast Lead? No comment. Not a protest, not a statement. Yediot Aharonot’s Nahum Barnea, whom I’d considered the Israeli equivalent of Orwell, supported the big operation, and since then he’s either backed Bibi’s little wars on terror or shut up about them.

That’s the way it’s been in the more than three years since Op Cast Lead – as Israel’s right-wing government has been smacking around the Palestinians and various others in the region, not only Livni but the mainstream Israeli peace camp has sat still for it. Likewise with the prospective attack on Iran – there have been a few one-off statements from Oz, Meretz’s new leader Zahava Gal-On and David Grossman (who’d called for a cease-fire early in the Gaza war – I don’t know if he supported the initial assault), but the only signs of a “movement” are from individuals starting things spontaneously, like on Facebook. The only demonstrations have been organized by disarmament activists and Hadash, and they’ve numbered from a couple of dozen participants to 1,000 at most.

I believe things would have been different today, and during the last three years of Netanyahu, if Peace Now, Meretz, Oz, Shalev, Barnea and others I can’t think of hadn’t so badly compromised their public voices in the Gaza war. I’m not saying the left would be in power now – I’m not that dreamy – but, to use a phrase of R.D. Laing’s, there wouldn’t be such a “low coefficient of truth in the air.”

The same goes for Tzipi Livni: It’s not that she would have become prime minister if she’d opposed the Gaza war, but she would have meant something as a politician, she would have stood for something, and if she’d finally been defeated like she was this week, she would have left behind a legacy, an example for others to follow, instead of leaving behind an image without substance, a kind of dignified blur.

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    1. Bill Pearlman

      It is also possible that she is well, an Israeli patriot who doesn’t believe in stabbing in the back, soldiers who are in the field.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Richard Witty

      NOONE had a prospectively successful answer to the shelling of Israeli civilians from Gaza.

      And, NOONE had a prospectively successful answer to the question of granting the rights of sovereignty (open port) to a non-sovereign state with little prospect of fulfilling the responsibilities of sovereignty.

      Meshal made the only plausible proposed alternative to the blockade only days before Cast Lead, and that was an internationally supervised port, which Hamas had earlier unequivocally rejected. His proposal was not taken seriously. Someone should have.

      I think Amos Oz got it right. Livni got it less right.

      The only change possible is the two-state, driven by leadership electorally empowered to work for genuine peace.

      How does Israel get that leadership? By intelligent people successfully making the peace case, constructed of the institutions of law and benevolent ethics.

      How does Palestine get that leadership? By intelligent people making the peace case. By intelligent people successfully making the peace case, constructed of the institutions of law and benevolent ethics.

      Reply to Comment
    3. “Yediot Aharonot’s Nahum Barnea, whom I’d considered the Israeli equivalent of Orwell”

      Say wha? Seriously?

      Reply to Comment
    4. Piotr Berman

      I would characterize Abu Mazen as a total sellout and a quisling, about as charismatic as a park bench. Or wannabe quisling, because he gets “no respect” from GoI. If GoI could not get an agreement with Abu Mazen, they cannot get an agreement with anyone.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Howcome my comment won’t appear?

      Reply to Comment
    6. sh

      For about half a second I considered voting for Livni in the last election, basically because she was woman. I thought better of it because Kadima was Likud-lite and, to put it mildly, I’ve never been a fan. I watched her struggle to form a government, play aloof with Bibi, decide opposition was the place for her and then lead a party that opposed pretty much nothing at all, although a single party that size could have had clout. I don’t think she was a moral casualty of the Gaza war – the voters would have considered her a moral casualty if she’d opposed it. She presented like a competent technocrat and never used the opportunity opposition offered her to grow; turned out not to have it in her.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Zecharia Plavin

      Dear Larry,
      I agree with your analysis, and strongly support it. In my view not barnea but you are israeli orwell, maybe together with gorenberg and burstein, and with a few (very few) others (ofer shelakh…).
      The central question is what actually happened in people’s hearts around the bloodshed of cast lead .
      You are right – not only livni surrendered to vulgar villainy, but rather 90% of the entire local population surrendered to it.
      So: why??
      My own diagnosis is that not rockets upon Sderot and villages around caused the cast lead but the sense of theatrical humiliation the rocket-throwers caused to israeli identity, especially to israeli rulers and to the entire israeli hierarchical system. Our politicians feed off vulgar popularity, and this popularity is a product of the “freyer” honor-game. Our local “wisdom” is built on “two thousands years of being world’s freyers” and we are here no longer to remain such freyers. So not the real hurt and death of rocket attacks were considered by the general public in non-bombed rekhovot, haifa, tel aviv, and ariel+jerusalem, but rather the very fact of piercing our borders, which is “our dignity”. And who is attacking our dignity? Those worthless uneducated creatures of that god-forsaken cramped strip of land that even palms do not grow there voluntarily? We shall should teach them a lesson.We shall show them their proper place.
      So it is not politics. It is clear case of infantile immaturity, immature spirit dwelling in bodies of so-called grow-up people. This immaturity is caused – to my best judgment – by our insufficient understanding of people-hood.
      And why THIS happens? Because “the world owes us”,and forgives us, so we are exempt from the necessity to learn political wisdom. In other words, to be a callous fool is always very profitable here, until someone more callous one comes and throws the previous fool out…
      If we want to cure ourselves, we should start discussing our identities as private people, and not aspire for power before we can provide a secure spiritual platform for the jews who can live as jews and as a friendly INTEGRAL part of the world. This is the task, as I see it.
      Good night, dear Larry,

      Reply to Comment
    8. ginger

      best derfner article I’ve ever read – someone who writes like this definitely does not belong at JPost
      great description livni and her whole mo.
      i have no idea about Mofaz and don’t expect much but i’m glad she’s history. hopefully she hears from the hague at some point regarding cast lead

      Reply to Comment
    9. Thanks an awful lot, Ginger and Zecharia – your words really encourage me (although Zecharia you’re being way, way too kind).

      Reply to Comment
    10. Zecharia Plavin

      dear Larry, here are some more names for orwell’s israeli truly patriotic (and human-respecting) davidsbund:
      yossi gurvitz, dmitri shumsky, and perhaps bernard avishai and ygal eilam.
      Have a good day.

      Reply to Comment
    11. B

      I think Zecharia’s analysis is psychologically astute!

      Reply to Comment
    12. Zecharia and B – it’s like old home week! Stick around, fellas!

      Reply to Comment